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India, Afghanistan to hold summit level talks, Shahtoot dam to be discussed

Modi and Ghani to hold summit level talks today (IANS)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will hold India-Afghanistan summit-level talks today. They are likely to discuss the Shahtoot dam on Kabul River basin,  which India had announced in November 2020 at the Geneva donors conference.

The Shahtoot dam will provide clean drinking water to Kabul residents besides being used for irrigation purposes. This is an expression of India's commitment to development projects—a part of its worldwide humanitarian diplomacy—in the conflict-torn country.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had announced at an international conference for the reconstruction of Afghanistan last year that the two countries have signed an agreement over building the dam on a tributary of Kabul river. The river originates from the Hindu Kush mountains and flows through Kabul and Jalalabad to reach Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistan has been opposing the project on grounds that it will reduce the quantum of water for its citizens.

Separately, India is also transferring the turbines and generators for Afghanistan's Kamal Khan hydroelectric and irrigation dam project on the Helmand River. This dam will irrigate 174,000 hectares of land in three districts and will supply water to Chaharbarak district of Nimroz province.

Over the past few months, India has shipped wheat as well as provided medicines to Afghanistan. India is using the Chabahar port in Iran to provide food security and development aid to the war-torn country. As recently as last week India had sent coronavirus vaccines to Afghanistan.

Since 2001, after the fall of the Taliban government, India has undertaken numerous projects for reconstruction and development of the war-torn country. It has provided almost $3 billion worth of support in terms of various projects in Afghanistan which include infrastructure as well as capacity building and training projects.

Some of the notable projects include the construction of a 218 km road from Delaram to Zaranj linking Afghanistan to Iran with a view to opening up an alternate route for the landlocked country. This has enabled Afghanistan to bypass Pakistan for its trade requirements and opened it up to the outside world.

India has also built hospitals, the Afghan parliament building and the Salma Dam in Herat province of west Afghanistan – which was later renamed as Afghan India Friendship dam to acknowledge India's support to the people and the democratic governments in Afghanistan.

India is taking up a number of high impact community development projects worth $80 million in Afghanistan. It is now replicating such high impact small development projects in neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar as well.

India's grassroots diplomacy comes at a time when Afghanistan is  undergoing an awkward transition owing to major global geo-political changes.

Last year in February 2020, then US President Donald Trump had inked an agreement with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, to withdraw American troops in lieu of Taliban giving up violence and breaking its links with international terror organisations like Al-Qaeda. However, the new US President Joe Biden plans to review that agreement as the Taliban has not implemented any of its promises. Also, US troops may continue for a longer time.

Afghanistan is also witnessing interest by China hopes to expand the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into Afghanistan. China is keen to tap resources in Afghanistan, including rare earths, as it is rich in lithium, the feedstock for batteries that can power anything from electric cars to cellphones.